May 20, 2020

Over 65 million Americans are underbanked, and either use limited banking services, or are forced to use expensive alternative financial services like Western Union, Green Dot, and others for cash management.

Bridge is the first mobile-first banking solution for people living paycheck to paycheck offering customers a no-fee deposit account, debit card, and free access ATMs.

The founding team at Bridge is a passionate group, blending both commercial experience and a real desire to solve a difficult large scale societal challenge. At Ulu we are excited to be part of the Bridge story… let’s hear it from Co-Founder/CEO Lalit Janak.

1) Tell us the big idea behind Bridge and how you came up with it.

Bridge was incubated within Edovo, a Chicago-based education technology company focused on reducing the jail and prison recidivism rate in the United States. Serving as an “EIR” at Edovo, I had the opportunity to interact with several families of the incarcerated and learn about their financial struggles. Most of the folks we spoke with lacked access to affordable banking services and relied instead upon high-fee alternative financial services (like prepaid debit and check-cashing) for their basic banking needs.

We asked ourselves: what if we could use Edovo as the initial channel partner to distribute mobile-first banking services to families of the incarcerated that could beat the high-fee alternative providers on convenience, price, and service? And that’s how Bridge was born.

2) Has the outbreak of COVID19 impacted your big idea?

Our thesis rests upon the secular trend taking place in banking today, namely the shift in focus from branch-based to mobile-first. This change has been slow-moving thus far: in 2019, more than half of all banking customers in the US still regularly visited a bank branch and less than 5% of banking customers used a digital-only bank as their primary banking provider.

People are now beginning to warm up to the idea of a digital-only bank. With the onset of the tragic COVID-19 pandemic, we are likely to see this shift to digital accelerate, especially among the population we aim to serve. At Bridge, we are already beginning to see a material increase in demand for our banking services in the weeks since this pandemic first struck.

3) Who were some of your important influencers or mentors?

Brian Hill, founder/CEO at Edovo, serves on our board and has been an incredible mentor for me personally and in all areas related to starting a “double bottom line” business. We have also met several folks along the way that have helped us immensely, including various investors and advisors.

4) Why did you want to work with Ulu Ventures?

This one’s easy: Miriam Rivera. When we first spoke with Miriam, it was clear she immediately understood the need for what we were building at Bridge. Like me, she is the child of immigrant parents and knows firsthand the challenges many people face in accessing affordable banking services. We are excited to be partnering with Miriam, Clint, Kevin and the rest of the Ulu team on this journey.

5) What are your dreams for your company?

Our mission at Bridge is clear and simple: we are seeking to build wealth in financially underserved communities by removing the barriers to upward economic mobility. There is a massive market opportunity and incredible impact potential for what we’re building: about 1 in 4 American adults are underbanked today. Our long-term vision is to be the metaphorical “bridge” in the financial life of this large, overlooked segment of our population, helping folks gain financial footing and clearing their path towards building wealth.

About the Author: Miriam Rivera

Miriam Rivera is co-founder and managing director of Ulu Ventures